24/05/2011

Review: Nordvargr – Awaken (reissue)

Code666/Eibon Records, 2011 (originally Code666/Eibon Records, 2002)


Tracklisting:

1) Awaken
2) Cellardweller
3) Kretslopp
4) Lament II
5) Exit Daemonas
6) Natt
7) Hascimh
8) Sulphur Mist
9) Seeds Of Blood (Acts 1-2)
10) Seeds Of Blood (Acts 3-4)
11) Dreamstates

In a way, Nordvargr has always been regarded as separate from the scenes it might belong to. This might be due to the immense discography in Henrik Björkk’s portfolio, with releases ranging from EBM over industrial to black ambient. The fact that Nordvargr itself has been the most experimental and unusual, as well as the least straightforward of his projects, doesn’t help classification much either. Mr Björkk has recently decided that his first album under the Nordvargr moniker, namely “Awaken”, deserves a second round of treatment. This new reissue has not only been re-edited and remastered, but also boasts 20+ minutes of previously unheard material taken from the same sources used for the original recording, according to the press release, in order to further enrich the original experience. However, in my many years of listening to dark ambient and related genres, I’ve somehow managed to miss Nordvargr’s earliest works, the original edition of “Awaken” being one of them. Therefore, my review will, unlike most that’ll be made available online in the weeks to come, be based on an entirely unprejudiced first listen (and subsequent ones), without any comparisons drawn to the original; I’ve heard the album the way the artist wanted it to be heard all along, I suppose.

Having in mind the introduction to this review, describing Nordvargr’s sound on “Awaken” is no easy task at all. The base is a deep, minimalistic, dark ambient one, not unlike Lustmord, with heavy use of manipulated field recordings. The numerous bone-chilling elements underline the similarities to Lustmord as the album progresses. However, there’s much more to this album than that. Nordvargr’s tumultuous history can be clearly heard, as many subtle and not-so-subtle elements are thrown into the mix quite surprisingly: pure industrial moments, intricate noises that hearken back to MZ.412, dreamy melodic outbursts, screams, martial rhytms, even acoustic guitars… All this creates a very bizarre and interesting experience, while keeping the overall album flow generally good – generally being the main word here. Indeed, if there’s one thing to reproach to this album, it’s the lack of true connection between individual tracks. One can distinguish a specific feeling throughout the album, absolutely, but the release still feels somewhat incoherent to a certain extent. The album length of more than 70 minutes doesn’t help a lot either. Still, this is only a minor distraction, and far from making the album actually flawed.

The artist claims that this album was created during a very difficult personal period, and it shows – unlike many artists in this field, who aim for a more esoteric approach, “Awaken” radiates what could only be described as tangible, breathing angst and oppression, in all its facets. The soundscapes created are everyday ones, not in the sense that they are simplistic in nature or mundane in any way; they just feel very introspective. The keyword here is troubled. There’s no sublime atmosphere and no fantasy here, just the sound of a suffocating soul rattling its cage in complete darkness and no-one around to hear it; a sonic portrait of an enchained person struggling to set free. I believe this is why the outbursts of rage (embodied in the occasional wall of sound) feel so sudden and short-lived, as if they’re lingering, going back and forth between denial and acceptance.

All in all, this album leaves little to be desired. The drawbacks that Ive emphasized have more to do with its objective qualities, which only shows that Nordvargr was only beginning to undertake its journey, and that Mr Björkk had yet to perfect his art to the fullest. However, the soul of every album is its subjectiveness, and “Awaken” manages to portray that aspect very well indeed. Many sleepless nights have been spent to make sure that yours are likewise. Recommended to everyone with a penchant for uneasy ambience with a less-than-friendly attitude.

8/10


Official Nordvargr website
Nordvargr @ Twitter

Buy CD via Code666
Buy CD via Eibon Records
Buy CD via Amazon.com